For the entirety of the recallable history of the Igbo, the group of hairstyles know in various dialects as ‘isi owu’ or ‘isi eri’ have been quintessential of the hairstyling traditions of Igbo women of all ages. Translating to “the hairstyle of thread”, isi owu is made primarily with either ‘eri roba’ (rubber thread) or ‘eri isi’ (natural thread) and could be fashioned into hundreds of ornate styles meant for aesthetic purposes as well as for the stimulation of healthy and natural hair growth.
In the style known as “enwe m boy” (translating to “I have a servant”), which is shown in this photograph, the woman’s hair is parted into thin strands, cocooned in thread, and made to stand vertically and elegantly. In making her hair stand erect in this manner, the bearer, whose head clearly cannot support any borne loads, prides herself as a character of distinguished pedigree and elegance, whose manservants clearly attend to her whims and needs and handle all of her load-bearing.
In the style known as “nkechi anya” the hair is gathered and collected at the scalp and then thread is firmly twisted about it from its base down its entire length. In this particular style, which is often borne by short-haired women, the thread is allowed to exceed the hair in length. In another style known as “ntufere” (translating to “some gaps”), the woman’s hair is also parted and cocooned in thread, although this fixture is much looser and not as strong as that of nkechi anya. In ntufere, thread cocoons are only tied halfway down the length of the strand, and some hair is exposed at the ends.